5 Myths Of Being A Professional Photographer

Fractal Cityscape, New York City, Fine Art, Traffic, Motion Blur, ICM,

There is no shortage of information about the business of photography.  Everyone’s got an opinion that sometimes conflicts with others opinions and this can cause some confusion.  The tough part is, what works for one person may not work for another.  With that being said, there is a core set of principles that most successful photography businesses adhere to and that’s what I wanted to explore here.  Below are the myths surrounding some of these principles and their reality.

Myth 1:  Professional photographers only do what they love

Reality:  While we do get to do what we love we also have to do a lot of what we don’t.  Unsuccessful photographers only do what they love.  The successful ones wear many hats, we are sales people, accountants, client relations, sometimes repairmen/women, and a litany of other job titles.  The point is, to be successful at photography one must be willing to do whatever it takes…  Success will evade the “I just want to do what I love” folks (the correct attitude is “I do what I have to so I can do what I want to”).

Myth 2:  All you need is a website and a Facebook page for clients to start throwing themselves at you

Reality:  Nope.  I can only think of one job profession that this works for, and it’s illegal in most areas.  Whether you plan on shooting weddings, portraits, fine art, or kitty cats, you’ll need to do a healthy dose of networking and cold calls if you want to be successful.

I can still remember the first photography workshop I did.  After I had established my website and a good reputation I figured all I’d have to do is publish an article announcing the workshop would be available and people would line up around the imaginary internet block…  Nope.  I quickly learned my lesson and advertised my second workshop, printed fliers to personally hang in all the towns surrounding Pittsburgh, and reaped the reward of a full workshop.

Boston – 2017

Myth 3:  You get to make your own hours

Reality:  Photography is tough, man.  Ask a wedding photographer who got up at four in the morning to get on site, set up, and then coordinate an entire day of wedding/reception shots, only to end at one in the morning the next day realizing they only ate a couple of power bars and drank a coke over the last 24 hours.

Or how about this…  I got a call for a commission that paid really well, the only catch was I had to fly to another state the next day to photograph a city I had never been to or had time to research.  I ended up walking north of 15 miles a day over a four-day period, working from before the sun rose until after, in order to get the client the images they needed.

The truth is, photographers rarely work only when they want to, the hours can be quite brutal.  If it isn’t the client dictating when you need to be here or there, it’s the light.  There are many mornings I’d rather be having my coffee and sitting in front of this computer in my comfortable chair than rushing out the door at 4 in the morning to be where the morning fog is just starting to lift so I can get a decent photograph.

Processed with VSCO with x1 preset

Myth 4:  All you need to be professional is professional gear

Reality:  The truth is, gear matters.  Just not in the order many think it does.  Buying professional gear doesn’t make the photos great, the photographer does.  Invest in learning what it takes to be a better photographer and you can make great photos with whatever gear you have on hand.  Once you improve your skill as a photographer, then professional gear can make a big difference.

When I started my photography business I made an important decision not to invest anything into the business that I didn’t make from the business.*  This meant that I didn’t go out and drop thousands of dollars on new gear.  I used the camera I had to earn money with this website and eventually upgrade my gear (my first “professional” camera was a Olympus Pen).  I still follow that same principle and only invest into my business what I make…  The only difference is now I make more than I need to invest back into the business, meaning I can build my savings for a rainy day.

*I had to invest a few hundred dollars into a domain name and a years worth of web hosting in order to start making money with the website. 

Myth 5: Professionals never work for free

This might be the most interesting myth for those of you starting out in photography and professionals who find themselves plateauing from time to time.  If you’ve read articles where professionals chastise other photographers for giving their work away for free I think it’s important to remember that there are exceptions to every rule.  For instance, I will do free work if it gets my foot in the door to photograph something I want to, something that builds my portfolio and sets me apart from others.

Another exception, that should be a requirement for professional photographers, is the personal project.  At any given time I have three or four different personal projects going on that I pour resources into (like travel, specific gear, etc.).  I don’t get paid directly for these projects but more often than not I will get business from the results.  More importantly, by completing projects that challenge us we are able to improve our skills as photographers which makes us even more marketable to potential clients.

Conclusion

The myths above are just a handful of misconceptions floating around the deep dark web.  What are some of the myths you’ve heard?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.  You can follow me on Instagram @PhotolisticLife.

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7 Comments

  • And of course the biggest myth of all is that a “professional” photographer is necessarily a “better” photographer than any amateur could ever be. Simply because somebody does a thing for money rather than love does not make them better at it.

  • And my apologies for a rather rushed comment earlier. I was just getting up and ready for a busy morning with my family when I read your article and just tapped in the thing on top of my head at the time. I have a bit more free time now 🙂

    I think I can very much agree with the thoughts you express here, although I’m not a professional photographer. I think some of the same kind of myths apply to many artistic endeavours and it’s good to see them laid bare. I know enough professional and semi professional musicians to know much of this would echo strongly with them also.

    My chosen profession is in IT, I grew up tinkering with computers. It was something I enjoyed and I thought it would be great to work in a field I enjoyed so much. That seems logical enough. However working in IT day in day out takes a lot of the pleasure out of pursuing technology as a hobby. I can still get pleasure out of it as long as it’s not anything remotely like I would be doing at work. I would hate my photography to go down the same path. It’s something I enjoy, it’s an itch I need to scratch in order to stay happy and sane – I need to have a camera in my hands. But I’ve shot enough weddings to know that I really don’t like “shooting to order” so I’m very happy to keep it as a hobby 🙂

    I think my instant response was because on so many photography forums you’ll read “well, a pro would do it this way” or “a pro would use” x,y or z piece of kit as if being “a pro” should be the natural aspiration of any photographer. I guess I just see it in a different way and maybe I suffer from the delusion of the “noble amateur” 🙂

    • No worries, Squonky. I appreciate the more in depth insight as well. From reading over your response I would gather than being a wedding photographer is not your passion. But I would be willing to guess that if I offered to pay you do photograph whatever you want you’d gladly do it. That’s the beautiful thing about building a photography business, you don’t have to take every job that comes your way and especially since you have a steady income from you IT job you could pursue projects that inspired you rather than projects that drain you. I do think that jumping into photography as a job and having to take every project that came your way just to pay bills would eventually drain even the most passionate photographer of their desire to pursue photography. I’d encourage you to revisit the idea of monetizing your passion but focusing on doing something that truly excites you. For instance, one of my favorite all time projects was the one I mentioned in the article, street photography in Boston… I got paid to walk around and explore, meet new people, and take photographs. I could do that every day, all day, for the rest of my life. Now, on the flip side, I’ve done projects that made me angry, bored, and uninspired… I’ll never do that type of project again. Live and learn I suppose. Thank you again for the in depth insight and I hope you have a great week!

    • Oh, and PS… Your last paragraph about photography forums… I couldn’t agree more. I’ve actually had comments on here telling me that my article was wrong and that a pro would never use a screw on ND filter. That was news to me as I’m a professional and I will use screw on filters when appropriate. To each his or her own!

  • The myths in your article are the reasons I never even considered being a photographer for a living. I know myself and doing photography to please another would have left me empty inside. Photography is too much fun to ruin by being unhappy photographing for others. Just my take.

    • Lewsh, thank you for sharing. I certainly hope my article didn’t discourage you from pursuing photography as a business though. You certainly don’t have to accept every commission that comes your way. For instance, think of your absolute favorite thing about photography and then ask yourself how you would respond if someone offered to pay you to do that exact thing! And the best thing about the business of photography is that it does not have to be your only business. There is nothing that says you can’t keep your day job and just cherry pick the projects that you’d like to pursue. With all that being said, there is also nothing wrong with enjoying photography purely as a passion and to be honest, that is a liberating way to live. Enjoy your week.

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